Ben Reilly Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"The Unbearable Tug of Opposites..."

I went to my first Comic-Con in the summer of 94.

I was young. I had $200 in my wallet with no real idea what that meant. And like pretty much everyone else those days, I was caught up in the speculator's market. But best of all? My mom left at the door because she didn't want to pay the $10 entrance fee.

I met Peter David and saw Vampirella that day, but that's not what this story is about.

No, this is about Amazing Spider-Man 149.

You see, unbeknowst to my mom, I was on a mission. These were the months leading up to the big revelation that the clone who 'died' in ASM 149 had not only survived and taken the name Ben Reilly, but he was actually the one, true Spider-Man. Now back in these days of speculator greed, Wizard Magazine was in the habit of spotlighting a back issue that was sure to skyrocket in value. If that feature was a bit, shall we say, mercenary, it still holds up better than their Babe 'n Hunk of the Month spotlight, which in hindsight is just embarrassing. But I digress.

I was walking into that convention center with every intention of owning the Holy Grail of the '94 speculator's market. I just knew that when Ben Reilly was revealed to be the original Spider-Man, that issue was going to be paying for cars, colleges, and God willing, a date with a girl that wouldn't qualify for Wizard's Babe of the Month because she was flesh and blood.

And sure enough, within five minutes I had found a vendor hawking ASM 149. I don't know who this guy was, but clearly he was some kind of moron who didn't realize the goldmine he was sitting on. He was willing to part with the holy grail for $100. I was drooling.

But my better angels prevailed, and in a surprising moment of clarity, I decided not to buy a copy of ASM 149.

I bought two.

Hey, you do the math. If one copy was going to pay for a car and a decent college education, I figured I was more a Harvard and Ferrari kind of guy. I was sixteen, you know. I had needs.

So within fifteen minutes, my wallet was empty and I was on the fast track to the fast life. I spent the next hours strolling around, reveling in my purchase. Mom didn't, shall we say, appreciate that you've got to spend money to make money. No, her reasoning was that you've got to have money to pay for gas.

Fast forward a few years later. I'm rich, right? Riiiiiiight. Well, I could have been (easily), but circumstances intervened. The marketing department had pressured Marvel to keep the Clone Saga rolling past its natural limits, Marvel was in chaos (and bankruptcy), and pretty much everyone just wanted it to be over in some way or another.

So now Ben Reilly, who was the one, true Spider-Man, wasn't--and my two issues of ASM 149 were collectively worth $30.

But fast-fast forward sixteen years later, and I'm holding two treasures in my hands again: a copy of Spider-Man: The Complete Epic Clone Saga, Book 1 in one, and ASM 149 in the other.

You see, in the years that followed, I've (re)learned a lesson that's taken me back to the very first Spider-Man comic I ever read and into the now again.

In his autobiography Brooklyn Dreams, J.M. DeMatteis uses a definition for duality that's stuck with me. And as I look at 'the beginning' of Ben Reilly's story in one hand, and the collected 'beginning of the end' on the other, that's the only way I can think to describe this whole experience: 'the unbearable tug of opposites.'

I'm convinced what makes Ben Reilly's Story so special is that it taps into something that's always been important to the Spider-Man experience: History. But it's not the kind of History that's closed off at either end. No, it's a history where Ben Reilly's Story ended before it began, and came back with a vengeance in a way that Gerry Conway could never have anticipated. It's a Story that continues through JMD's backup stories in Web of Spider-Man Vol. 2, which fall between The Lost Years and Web of Spider-Man 117.

That's why I titled my blogspot ASM 149. Everyone thought the clone's Story was finished in ASM 151 (to be fair, he did get dropped down a smokestack). Everyone thought Ben Reilly's Story was over with PPSM 75, but the Clone Saga seems to be coming back with a vengeance this year. There's a life lesson in ASM 149's wild history, its improbable future, and its God only knows what falls next, and it's this:

Ben Reilly is what happens while you're busy making other plans.


  1. Yeah, I agree. The strength of Reilly's character becomes apparent when you consider how people are still interested in him to this day. At some point, he'll return.

  2. Absolutely. I love reading the old letter columns where readers would ask Stan, "Is Character X Really Dead?" And Stan would reply along the lines of, "That depends on the readers."

    Comics are one of the most democratic mediums out there. If there's a demand, a character will return.

    I can't help but think that with the Clone Saga being collected, JMD's backup stories, Kaine's return, and hints that Carrion and Jackal will play a part in "Origin of the Species," Marvel is gearing up for Ben's return in a big way.